"The Phillies win the pennant! The Phillies win the pennant!"
A Philadelphia-St. Petersburg World Series (as seems likely to happen) will be death in the television ratings, which is all anyone cares about. Rob Neyer made an interesting point on a radio show this morning, though: It might suck for FOX, but the Rays have helped create thousands of baseball fans in Western Florida, and that can't be a bad thing for baseball. There were already fans in Boston and Los Angeles, and they're not going anywhere. So the Rays in the WS is only a bad thing if you care about ratings. Plus, Philadelphia is the sixth-largest market in baseball based on population. I'm not sure why Boston, which is smaller than El Paso in population, gets such a reputation as being a great baseball town. I mean, it is, but Phillies fans are just as passionate as Red Sox fans.
It has a lot to do with what the media wants. The Phillies are a solid team up and down the roster. They have home-grown several key players (Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Cole Hamels, to name a few) and haven't gone out and chased a big free agent (like Manny Ramirez) to get them to this point, relying instead on smart acquisitions (like Brad Lidge, who was acquired for very little) that build on the core. As we saw in these playoffs, they don't need Ryan Howard to hit home runs to win. I haven't watched as much of Tampa as Philadelphia, obviously, but they're built much the same way, and they're younger than the Phillies are. They scare the crap out of me, frankly. These are two very good teams that "do things the right way," according to all the media. But the media lies. They don't want teams to "do things the right way," because that means the teams are somewhat boring. Look at the Yankees. The media want teams to be like the Yankees, throwing money around like drunken sailors, because then they're "interesting." It makes no difference whether they're good or not. ESPN and FOX wanted Los Angeles-Boston in the World Series not because those are the two best teams, but because they (reporters, that is) wouldn't have to do their jobs. The stories (Manny's and even Derek Lowe's return to Boston; Joe Torre managing against the BoSox again in a different uniform) would write themselves! Who wants to do work when you can simply point out the circus is in town?
I hope the ratings are good for a Philadelphia-St. Petersburg World Series. I don't really care, but it would be nice. More than that, though, I hope the media doesn't treat this like an afterthought and concentrate instead on which Dallas Cowboy is melting down this week. It's the media's job to get people interested in this series, and there are plenty of interesting stories on these two teams that DON'T have players who quit on one team to force a trade. It's a chicken-or-the-egg thing: Are people more interested in the Red Sox/Yankees/Cubs because they're fans, or are they fans because that's all ESPN seems to care about? I doubt if we'll ever know. I do know that the Phillies aren't "romantic" losers like the Cubs are and the Red Sox used to be. If only we had an idiotic curse in our background, then people would write poems and books about us and sports anchors would wax nostalgically about sitting in the stands bemoaning another 100-loss season!
It's been 25 years since a Philadelphia team celebrated a major championship. That's the longest drought for any city with teams in each major sport (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey). I might cry if the Phillies lose, not because it would affect me too much (I have moved on a bit from letting a sports team define me, after all), but because that would mean a loser city like Tampa gets to celebrate instead. At least we share that with Cubs fans - watching upstarts win World Series!
So Dodgers fans can choke on it. Have fun paying Manny 150 mil over 6 years and watching him take the last three of the deal off. And screw you, Mets fan who put Chicago on top of his rooting interest list for the playoffs (although, to be fair, he has the Phillies third). How's that Santana contract looking these days?* The Phillies win the pennant! Shout it with me!
As these pictures show, there's something perversely satisfactory about winning a series on the opponents' home field. It's more fun at home, but look at the dead eyes of the Dodgers and the downcast spectators. That's good stuff! I thought of this last night: Unless the Phillies sweep the Series or win in 5 (unlikely), they'll win all three series on the road. I think Phillies fans will take that.
* (Tom and Roger know, I hope, that I'm just funnin' with them. Men understand. The sports just gets the testosterone a-rumblin'! We're still pals, right, guys? Guys?)